A Sheep Story

When Dave and I got the mes­sage that a woman in Bed­ford was look­ing to sell five of her sheep my first thought was, absolute­ly not. After all, pru­dence tells me that we should grow slow­ly, and so do the major­i­ty of organ­ic farm­ing how-to books.

“But isn’t part of the fun get­ting in over our heads a lit­tle?” Dave asked.
True, there are organ­ic farm­ing how-to books that would agree. The Dirty Life,for exam­ple (a great read). Well, maybe, I thought. So we did some research, went and vis­it­ed them, spent hours writ­ing pro and con lists, and decid­ed that it was too late, we had already fall­en in love.
Can you blame us?
Lau­rel, the most friendly
Plus, we jus­ti­fied, lamb will make our meat CSA that much more desir­able next year (if you’re inter­est­ed, sub­scribe to our mail­ing list on the right). And I’m pret­ty excit­ed about their wool as well.
Luck­i­ly for us, sheep are pret­ty easy to take care of. They eat pri­mar­i­ly grass, are very hardy, and are extreme­ly sweet. We’re com­mit­ted to rais­ing them organ­i­cal­ly, with­out any vac­cines or antibi­otics, so that means that the only tricky part is we’re going to have to intense­ly rota­tion­al­ly graze them. That means they’ll have to be moved almost dai­ly (and def­i­nite­ly dai­ly next spring when we have lambs that are much more sus­cep­ti­ble to par­a­sites). Mov­ing them every­day means that they will more ful­ly graze the pas­ture. As one sheep own­er explained, “if you give them too much space to graze, they’ll eat all the cake and none of the veg­eta­bles”. It also means that they won’t be graz­ing over a build up of their own excre­ment, there­fore reduc­ing the chances of them get­ting par­a­sitic diseases.
Again, we turned to Wellscroft Fence Sys­tems in New Hamp­shire, and they hooked us up with some light­weight elec­tric sheep fenc­ing and a lot of great advice. For now, we’re graz­ing them on the back pas­ture, with plans to install some per­ma­nent fenc­ing and bring them up clos­er to the house this winter.
A Cheviot
Phlox (Rom­ney), on the left. Lau­rel (Rom­ney) in the fore­ground. Bon­nie, Blair and Brid­get (the three Cheviots) next to Phlox.
They love the move­able shel­ter Dave built them.
We pur­chas­es five ewes, two Rom­neys and three Cheviots. We’ll breed them this fall and hope­ful­ly they’ll all twin in the spring, pro­vid­ing us with lamb for mar­ket by Octo­ber. Both are con­sid­ered good breeds for meat and fleece. The Rom­neys are known as good sheep for begin­ners, very easy going, while the Cheviots are con­sid­ered a lit­tle more wild. Cheviots are said to have been roam­ing the hills between Scot­land and Eng­land as ear­ly as the 14th Cen­tu­ry (wikipedia) and are “not­ed for har­di­ness, longevi­ty, pro­duc­tive­ness, milk­ing, and moth­er­ing abil­i­ty and for their great activ­i­ty” (Amer­i­can Cheviot Sheep Soci­ety). Because they are “hill sheep” and were often left to their own devis­es, they are more skit­tish and wary of preda­tors than the more trust­ing Rom­neys. We fig­ured it would be worth­while to try out a cou­ple dif­fer­ent breeds.
So you can all look for­ward to more sheep sto­ries this winter.